Talking with the People of The People's Last Stand about Cocktails, Panic and PB&J's

Kartik Rathore opened The People's Last Stand in Mockingbird Station more than a year ago, and the foremost concept was it would be an upscale bar serving high-quality drinks. It was his first endeavor in the restaurant and bar business and he admittedly had a hard time in the beginning. While the drinks were a success, the kitchen suffered and customers noticed.

But, Rathore has learned lot in one year. Along with chef Jordan Ladd and general manager and bartender Alex Fletcher, they feel they've finally hit a stride.

I sat down with the three this week to talk shop. A recent event at Sissy's Southern Fried Chicken, Shake for Second Base, came up and I told them about an amazing drink I had made with an añejo tequila:

It took the bartender several minutes to make it and she was doing all these things and when she set it on the bar, I said, "That's it?" The words just stumbled out and I felt badly. But, then a few minutes later I realized I was nursing the best drink I've ever had... Kartik: It's funny that you say that because we often get reactions like that too. It takes some time to make these drinks and put it in that little cup and hand it to someone, they're always like "That's it?" Thankfully, they're usually surprised at how good it is. Alex: Dallas has gotten much more accustomed to classic cocktails.

What was your first bar job, Alex? Alex: Over a decade ago, I started as a bar back at the Quarter Bar and was there for six years, then Barcadia, The Dubliner, Three Sheets, Beauty Bar and now here.

How has the Dallas drinking scene changed in that time? Alex: In my first five years of tending bar, I heard someone order a proper Old Fashioned maybe twice. And now, it's our best selling drink. It outsells vodka and Miller Lite. Trend-wise, flavored vodkas and stuff are still around in some bars, but a lot of people are going back to spirits. Kartik: I think it's really interesting how many places have cocktails on their menu now. That's a result of what so many places like Cedars [Social], Tate's, Standard Pour, they're kind of raising the expectations of customers.

What did you do before you opened a bar, Kartik? Kartik: I had a corporate job.

Seems like the easy thing to do would have been to open a spot that caters to the surrounding clientele. So, why a high-end cocktail restaurant and bar on the fringe of the SMU campus? Kartik: Well, I thought we were going to get a lot of the SMU crowd. But, when we got into it and brought in this great team, it quickly evolved into something that crowd isn't going after.

It's hard to do high-end drinks and high-end food together. Only a few are able to pull it off, like Cedars Social. Kartik: Well, we know that if we want to double our business, we could run beer specials all night, and we'll make a lot of money, but that's not who we want to be. And we never really wanted to be in the restaurant business, and at first we didn't really pay attention to the food. But, when we started seeing a lot of the reviews, they all said we had great drinks, but not food. So, our attention shifted. Have you hit your stride yet? Kartik: It's a work in progress. I think we've hit our stride in that we're all a little more calm than we were six months ago, but I still think we're always pushing ourselves.

When you left the corporate world to do this, did you think it'd be this hard? Kartik: Absolutely not. Just last week Alex asked me if I ever missed corporate and I said, "Hell yeah. I knew I was going to get a paycheck every two weeks." Here there's rarely any rhyme or reason to business. One Thursday will be great, the next bad. With no clear reason why. That's so stressful. So, to answer your question, yes, I miss corporate.

Would you go back to it tomorrow? Kartik: I wouldn't leave this place for anything. I see so much potential that I'm not worried anymore.

Jordan, what was your first job in the kitchen? Jordan: In high school I got a job at Bass Pro Shop [in Islamorada, Florida] and I almost got fired my first day. I just didn't know anything. My boss said I was too slow.

Then, I met Josh Black while at Cordon Bleu [who eventually worked at People's Last Stand also]. Josh really taught me how to cook seasonally and fresh. Before he was here, it was just sandwiches and stuff and when he got here the menu really changed.

Just sandwiches? Kartik: Yeah, we had [he's saying with an air of sarcasm] the Biggy and Tupac, which was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I love pb&js. I probably eat four a week. Kartik: [Laughing] We got a lot of really good feed back on them. Alex: It was like "Here's your $14 drink and your peanut butter and jelly sandwich." Kartik: It was $6, but we didn't want to sell it for too cheap... [all three are laughing].

Sounds like it was a big deal. Did you all have meetings about the PB&J? Kartik: It wasn't just meetings, it was a full-on panic for about six months. We didn't know what the hell we were doing. Alex: Our food went from that to Josh Black -- fresh and eclectic -- now Jordan is sort of the middle ground. What's the crowd like here at 7 p.m. versus 10 p.m.? Alex: It's pretty consistent all the time. If the station [Mockingbird Station] is really busy with other things a lot of people just find us, and I love that. Late night crowds are here to either begin or end their night with a nice drink and maybe a snack. But, the quality of customers is great.

What's that mean? You don't have to get the baseball bat out much? Alex: No, no. Thank God, because I'm too old.

Is it hard to cut someone off at the end of the night? Alex: It's actually kind of an art. It's more about finesse. Usually you just want to offer them water, then once they get a little water in their system and relax, they realize it's time to go home. Actually, I just did that last night.

How'd it go down? Alex: Well, a customer just came in late and ordered a pretty strong drink. I very nicely offered him water instead. After a bit he thanked me and went home.

What spirit are you excited about now? Alex: Mezcal.

It's like tequila, but not, right? Alex: Mezcal can be a tequila but tequila can't be a mezcal. It's made out of the agave plant, but the root and core of it. It's a really cool spirit because you can taste the soils. Of the three I have, they are all different based on the region it's grown in. And, I'm also excited about Jameson.

What's the deal with bartenders and Jameson? So many say that. Alex: In the '90s it was Tuaca...

Wait, Tuaca is out? Alex: No, just for bartenders. Then it was Sambuca.

What about Pernod? Alex: It's coming back.

What do you do with mezcal? Alex: I have a drink called "Straight to Hell." It's a twist on the margarita with mezcal, Thai basil, ginger syrup and apricot liqueur.

Sounds earthy. Alex: Earthy and herbally, spicy and smokey.

You used to have a "Suntory Times" on your drink menu with a picture of Bill Murray. How many people ordered that regardless of what it tasted like? Alex: Yeah, his face sold it alone. That was actually Chris Dempsey's cocktail.

Would you consider a Bill Murray happy hour? I'd be here. Alex: I love Bill Murray. Maybe so.

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